POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – A diver from New Mexico who died in a Thanksgiving Day boating accident was a manager at one of the nation's leading research laboratories who was in Florida for a holiday dive trip with her nephew, authorities said Friday.
An autopsy was planned Friday for Nina Poppelsdorf, 54, who was part of a group of about two dozen coming back from a dive outing Thursday when a large wave flipped over their 45-foot catamaran.
The Sandia Park, New Mexico, woman died at a hospital after the Coral Princess capsized, said Broward Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Dani Moschella. Witnesses said the boat was approaching the Hillsboro Inlet in Pompano Beach when a wave 8 to 10 feet high came in and flipped the twin-hulled craft upside down.
Poppelsdorf was in Florida with her nephew, who is from Pennsylvania, just for the dive trip.
"They just went on this fun trip together to just do dives," Moscehlla said. "So this is especially tragic that it was on Thanksgiving and it ended in tragedy."
Poppelsdorf was a senior manager of the radiation protection, industrial hygiene and safety center at Sandia National Laboratories, lab spokeswoman Heather Clark said. She was hired in Aug. 1992 at the lab, a federal research and development center.
"Nina worked for about 20 years at Sandia National Laboratories and made many contributions to industrial hygiene, safety and radiation protection," said Sandia Environment, Safety & Health director Sid Gutierrez, her supervisor. "She served as both a staff member and later as an outstanding manager. She was recently promoted to senior manager and was well-respected by her peers and staff alike. Her contributions to improving safety at Sandia are numerous and she will be missed as both a member of the Sandia family and as a wonderful person."
Darrell Fong, a Sandia Labs safety engineering manager who worked with Poppelsdorf, said she was admired for her professionalism and easily identified by her laugh.
"She had a great laugh. Everyone could recognize her laughter. They'd say `Oh, there's Nina."' Fong said.
Poppelsdorf was a leader of a Sandia team that helped in the response to the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami left several reactors there without cooling water, Fong said. He also said Poppelsdorf was a certified diving instructor.
The Coral Princess is a Corinthian catamaran owned by South Florida Diving Headquarters in Pompano Beach. A phone message left Friday by The Associated Press for the owner of the boat was not immediately returned.
Three of the 23 people on the boat were treated and released. Most of them were from out of town on vacation, authorities said.
Officials said nearby boaters jumped into the water to pull people to safety. Pompano Beach Fire Rescue workers used personal watercraft to get to the site. The U.S. Coast Guard and other state and local agencies assisted in the rescue.
The accident remains under investigation.